Evan Altman did his “11 Bold Predictions” post earlier this month, which got me thinking about some of my own. Since I’m not worthy of matching Evan’s 11 predictions, I’ll just give nine.
1. Addison Russell goes over 5.0 fWAR, puts up a +.350 wOBA, and laughs at everyone’s arm concerns.
2. Every member of the infield hits over 25 homers
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are locks to hit 25 homers. Russell and Javy Baez, not so much. But the double play combo is set to compile the most plate appearances up the middle this season, and both have inched over the 20-homer marker in their careers before. Getting more playing time and continuing to adjust will lead them over 25 homers.
3. Kyle Schwarber clubs over 41 homers
Schwarber’s 2017 season was viewed as a disappointment both internally and outside the organization. But let me gently remind you that he produced two percent more runs than the average MLB hitter last year in an environment where the baseballs were basically golf balls. I believe that his 72.4 percent contact rate and his homer tally in under 500 PA’s speaks volume, too. Oh, and did you see his newfound athleticism and noticeably quieter approach at the plate? Big things, folks.
4. Kyle Hendricks wins the Cy Young
88 mph and curveballs. Hendricks’ velocity trended back to that upper-80’s range as 2017 tailed off. We found that his velocity return was a byproduct of “being less stuck” on the mound and regaining that same mechanical feel he had in 2016. So if he looks anything like 2016 because of his velocity plus he adds in that new spike curve he’s been working on, R.I.P. MLB. Of course, combine all of this with an improved defense and Javy playing second base most of the time.
5. Jon Lester changes something to pitch arsenal
Jon Lester’s velocity dipped over 2 mph last season. If his velocity remains lower, I expect the Cubs coaching staff and Lester, who is a creature of habit, to collaborate on adding a new pitch to his arsenal. Maybe it’ll be throwing more changeups, a pitch he increased usage of by nearly three-fold in one spring training start.
6. Willson Contreras Is MLB’s Most Valuable catcher
I was slightly hesitant going into 2017 about Contreras because his 70-ish percent contact rate and moderate power didn’t mesh well. But all those concerns have since been squashed. Willy added in a mini toe-tap in mid-May last season, an adjustment that spiked his contact rate to 75 percent without sacrificing power. No matter what metrics you use to evaluate catchers (e.g., WAR, combo of framing and runs created, etc.), he will cement himself as MLB’s catching jewel.
7. Javy Baez wins a Gold Glove
At some point, MLB has to give their most electric player more gold than just what he wears around his neck, right? Javy is poised to break defensive metrics now that the Cubs are planning to give him the bulk of time at second base.
8. Cubs offense is best in NL
The 2016 Cubs had an aggregate wRC+ of 105, which was tied for the best mark in the NL with the Cardinals. They’ll be first again in 2018, and the Cardinals won’t be close to them this time.
9. Cubs win over 100 games
This projection depends on their pitching depth. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a tiny bit concerned about their health because of Lester’s arm fatigue, Hendricks’ finger issues, Chatwood’s history, and Darvish’s elbow. But I default to the Cubs’ ability to keep their guys relatively healthy and identify pitchers who remained immune to significant injury. Healthy pitchers mean 100 wins.